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Younger Than 45? You May Press Delete Now

Ours being a youth-oriented culture is a cliché. Yet at a certain point in our lives we may neither know nor care who the Grammy winners were, be indifferent to the screen resolution of the latest iPad, and in the mirror realize those pricey anti-aging supplements aren’t working as magically as advertised.

All this is mostly irrelevant when compared with the jolt that inevitably arrives via snail mail sometime in your late 40s. This will be your first of many invitations to join AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, now known only by its acronym and pronounced like the very last sound that comes from your mouth before the lights go out on you for good.

Somewhere on the internet there’s an ever-expanding list that begins “You Know You’re Getting Old If…” Don’t bother finding it. Just wait for your first copy of AARP’s magazine to show up. That’s all you’ll need. Read one issue from front to back and your vision will blur with cataracts, your joints will creak, teeth loosen, hair thin out, and you’ll notice difficulty peeing.

Being critical of AARP is sort of like being critical of the Girl Scouts. But just as the Girl Scouts seem to exist as a vehicle for cookie distribution, AARP has become one massive and persistent financial services company. The magazine itself, with aging but undeniably attractive (and certainly airbrushed) movie stars on its cover, has a lot of the usual where-to-retire/new-hobby/discounts-for-seniors blather, plus lots of ads for the latest pharmaceuticals–to prepare you for your future?–and many (many!) programs to sell you insurance and invest your retirement largesse.

In fact, AARP earns far more–$700 million annually–from its for-profit financial services division than it does from its modestly priced membership fees.

Golden Years My Ass
A more sensible, amusing, and undeniably cynical approach to aging than AARP’s magazine is the small book Golden Years My Ass, by Daniel Krause, former head of sociology at Chicago’s Roosevelt University. Krause’s professional focus was gerontology, the study of aging, and his previous book, Home Bittersweet Home, was his take on the nursing home industry.

Krause reminds us that our retirement years could easily last as long as those spent working and offers some worthy insights, a few of which you likely knew but preferred not to acknowledge aloud. Based on my own experience with older patients (I started my medical career in geriatrics), Krause’s observations are astute, among them:

The act of retiring can be experienced as a kind of identity theft.  For many of us, far more of our identity is wrapped up in our occupations than we think. Unless you’ll be fulfilling some very specific and long-cherished post-retirement dreams, like writing your novel or opening a coffee house for intellectuals to discuss semiotics, it’s psychologically quite a shock to go from being Creative Director, Financial Analyst, or Special Ed Teacher to Anonymous Retiree. In other words, if you like what you do for a living, try to keep doing it as long as you can.

–Financials permitting, exit on your own terms.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a pension that hasn’t been swept into the personal coffers of some Harvard MBA, then don’t wait to retire–just quit when you’re tired of doing what you do.  It’s much more empowering to exit on your own terms, toss the keys onto your desk, and say to no one in particular “I’m outta here.” And then find something to be passionate about. Sadly, too many of us are ending our careers with Social Security and a pittance. If this is your challenge, obviously you’ll need to downsize expenses and perhaps find something part-time. One of my older patients works three days a week at Home Depot, which she really enjoys for the interaction with people and because she knocks out (in her words) “my weight-bearing osteoporosis prevention!”

–When you’re no longer working, if you’re not careful you might find yourself surrounded by people who have nothing to do all day long. There will be a tendency to talk about, and listen to, health problems. Let that inner voice scream “I can’t believe I’m talking about my bowels (bad back, bypass, prostate, etc.)!” Keep your mouth shut about your health and find a new circle of friends, start a book club, and/or volunteer.

–Think twice about moving someplace else (especially a “retiree heaven”) unless you really can’t stand where you live now. The devil you know is better than the devil unknown. You might like warm weather, but you might also end up in a gated community with no theatres, bookstores, or jazz clubs surrounded by demented Republicans.

–Don’t give up all the little pleasures thinking you’ll be rewarded with a long life. Have the Dove bar, enjoy your martini. Krause quotes Woody Allen as saying “You can live to be 100 only by giving up everything that might make you want to live to 100.”

–Will you end up in a nursing home? Probably not. Only about 5% of primarily the very old ever live in nursing homes. Also, there are now so many housing options available for older adults that buying long term care insurance is a serious waste of money.

After all this, if you need a little inspiration for what to do, click here and meet Elaine. Then get moving and embrace your own inner Elaine.

Finally, since the priorities of AARP broadly parallel those of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, you might think twice about joining. AARP lobbied against single-payor health insurance and pushed Congress to pass Medicare Part D with its financial windfall for the pharmaceutical industry.

Don’t let the priorities of AARP drag you down. Like Elaine, you’ve got more important pursuits.

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Shirley Weese Young says:

    Dr. Edelberg:
    As I have been up almost all night due to colonoscopy prep, I was so happy to get your email and find myself laughing out loud–especially the part about why not to move to warm weather! Thank you for making (what has turned out to be a very long night) a lot more fun. Shirley

  2. Brad says:

    Right on, Dr. Dave. Your serious sense of humor adds just the right edge to this, if not all, of your missives. Much enjoyed – keep it up! -Brad

  3. Maria says:

    Absolutely agree with all of the above, but I think you’d be best to leave digs on politics out of your articles. It can unneedfully offend. Choose a different example.

  4. Susan Nuccio says:

    OMG! What a frightening thing to say that long term care insurance is a waste of money! My dear father died last year of complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and as my mother was not able to take care of him at home by herself (they were both in their 80s), my brothers and I had to hire in 24-help for him for almost a year. The cost completely gutted their retirement savings. There are so many single or widowed women who live long lives, and may not have children, and NEED long term care insurance in order to avoid becoming homeless paying for medical care. What a reckless position for you to take!

  5. R Perrie says:

    Agree completely about AARP, I never joined.
    I’d rather live in a gated community with demented Republicans than be governed by demented Democrats.

  6. Dr E says:

    To Susan
    Whereas everybody eventually uses their health, car and homeowners insurance, the vast majority of people never tap into their long term care (LTC) insurance. Moreover there have been recent issues with the industry itself (companies not paying, companies going bankrupt). The majority of elderly living in LTC facilities are covered by Medicaid. Since people usually enter in their 80’s and 90’s, I’d be reluctant to start buying very expensive insurance in my 40’s or 50’s. I spent almost 20 years in geriatrics; the majority of nursing home patients were short stays, covered by Medicare. When it looked like a long stay, the nursing home itself helped with the Medicaid application.

  7. Addie says:

    I ignored AARP for the reasons you give, but didn’t understand fully what I didn’t like about the organization until their strong support for Bush’s prescription drug program, which no one, except drug companies, could understand.

  8. H2 says:

    I agree with R Perrie:
    I’d rather live in a gated community with demented Republicans than be governed by demented Democrats.

  9. Bob Gosdick says:

    Dr. Dave: At my ripe old age of 78, I am not offended or challenged by anyone’s political position. So your comments about AARP, nursing homes, insurance, etc. are useful facts to add to my ever expanding storehouse of knowledge. But your comments about not giving up little pleasures, not hanging around with people who do nothing and not moving from your home base are right on. Perhaps I am fortunate being the old dog married to the young pup (68) so new friends and activities abound for me and make a happy life.

  10. Kim Stiffle says:

    A poem by Billy Collins:


    The name of the author is the first to go
    followed obediently by the title, the plot,
    the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
    which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
    never even heard of,

    as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
    decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
    to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

    Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
    and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
    and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

    something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
    the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

    Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
    it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
    not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

    It has floated away down a dark mythological river
    whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
    well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
    who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

    No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
    to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
    No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
    out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

  11. Dr E says:

    To Kim
    Thanks for the profound and sensitive poem by one of my favorite poets! I’m sure you’ve read one of the greatest of American poems “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July.”

  12. Lindy_Hopping says:

    Doc, do you mean to say that the AARP-sound is what one quite possibly says when talking their final breath? Who the hell wants to live to 100+? Come on . . . everyone you ever knew are mostly all gone, living that long is overrated, and I would get tired just wondering when it would all be over with — UGH . . . .

  13. Dr E says:

    UGH! can be a good ‘last word’ too. Very expressive of everything. AARP is pretty common as a last sound, a variation of URP!
    Not too many people manage anything profound.
    As for living to 100–I took care of quite a few 100+ patients over the years who enjoyed every moment of their lives and when they would realize the end was near would protest “I’m not ready!”
    Remember Dylan Thomas? “Do not go gentle into that good night..rage..rage..against the dying of the light.”

  14. Judy Kayser says:

    Doc E….I love this article and believe that your political digs are really funny and not offensive in the least. Keep us laughing!

  15. Dr E says:

    To Maria
    Politics runs all of our lives. Health care (your health care, Maria) is totally run by politics. If doctors remain silent on politics, they’re irresponsible and doing a major disservice to their patients. Remember that both Ron Paul and his son Rand are both physicians. They certainly aren’t silent about politics. I’m not quite sure why you want me to be silent unless you simply disagree with me. That’s fine. Speak up!

  16. marylou carroll says:

    Thank you, Dr. David!

  17. H2 says:

    Thanks, Dr E, for confirming the close ties between health and politics. Ever since the Obama admin asserted its right to murder Americans without charges I’ve felt a subtle stress enter my life. Haven’t we been here before?

  18. Cathy says:

    I’m with Judy! Love your articles, humor, and willingness to speak out on political issues (often nonsense).It takes guts. I’ve learned a lot from you~ thanks!

  19. Ann Raven says:

    Good advice! I hear that Dr. Krause’s book is very funny – worth a read.

  20. Judy says:

    Thank you for this! And I’m especially glad I can still have a martini, oked by the doctor. I feel so much better now. To hell with AARP.

  21. Jeffrey Gascon says:

    Finally!!! was looking for another AARP perspective. Thank you!!!….awesome suggestions!!!

  22. Mark says:

    Thanks, especially for your suggestions about the true motivation behind AARP.

  23. Mark says:

    Regarding my previous comment, I am 65, not retired, and have received AARP invitations for over 15 years. I occasionally read them, but have not been moved to sign up.

  24. lysette hamilton says:

    Why do you think so poorly of AARP when it is the only organization looking out and fighting for senior’s rights? Its by no means perfect and could go a lot deeper into the serious concerns of the seniors but believe me its better than nothing. At least someone is fighting for our rights.

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